My Experiences with RA and Intimacy
Intimacy is extremely personal. It can be beautiful, it can be complicated, and it can be a hundred things in-between.
Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I’ve found that, with a little work on the setup front and a little extra communication with my partner, intimacy can still be enjoyable, relaxing, and even pleasurable.
Let me rewind.
How would symptoms impact intimacy?
I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2016 at the age of 28 after living with symptoms for most of my life (I share more on my journey to diagnosis here: "Navigating a New Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis").
My now-husband and I were already dating at the time. Although we had been intimate up until this point, he wanted to understand if this new diagnosis would impact our experiences or ability to be intimate, and if or how he could help in the process.
We’d already been together for 2 years, during which my health had struggled immensely. Not only had I been suffering from joint pain, inflammation, and reduced mobility, but I had also recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disease affecting the GI tract.
During that time, I learned so many things.
On high pain days, intimacy is not a top priority
When you hurt or feel sick, it’s hard to feel sexy.
Listen, I get it. When you don’t feel comfortable or confident in your body, it’s hard to share your personal space with someone else.
During my high pain and symptom days, being intimate is far from the top of my list. But - I have also learned that sometimes being intimate can rescue my pain, distract me from feeling sick, and bring me relief in a way that nothing else can.
Again, I know this is very personal, but I thought it might help to share my experience and open the conversation for feedback without stigma or taboo.
A chance to connect and find relief
This is something we have played to over time. While intimacy always gives us a chance to connect and to treat each other well, it also provides endorphins and natural pain reduction - sometimes more than can be achieved from medication alone.
The balance is sometimes challenging - feeling well enough or mentally willing enough to touch and be touched, focusing on ourselves and each other, and desperately needing that relief from joints that are screaming in agony.
But, finding that sweet spot has been instrumental in my marriage and my life with RA.
How I support my body and experiences with intimacy
Here are some things that support my body and experiences with intimacy.
- Communication is vital. I am a strong believer that talking about the details of being intimate should be a comfortable conversation with your partner. So, before or during intimacy, it's really important that I tell my husband what hurts most, what to avoid, if I want or need to stay in a certain position, or need some extra support during different movements.
- Lube. Just like my joints struggle to move freely throughout the day, I find that intimacy is much more enjoyable and comfortable for me when I'm properly lubricated. I don't know if it's because of living with RA or any one of a number of other factors but, on average, I find that lube is a significant deal-breaker with intimacy.
- Relaxation. When I'm struggling with pain before or during intimacy, I find that relaxation is key for my body. Often times using a heating pad, calming music, essential oils, or soft sheets helps my body from stiffening up and allows the beneficial and pleasurable parts of intimacy to come to fruition.
If you have questions, comments, or stories about RA and intimacy, please drop them below! This is an open forum and we're here to talk about anything.
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?